By Nducu wa
Friday, March 14,
walked gingerly to the bus stop. He had
made the two-mile walk from Gitithia to Limuru in record time and the beads of
sweat now flowing down the sides of his face like an artist’s pencil bore
testament to the arduous journey. He
wiped his brow with the back of his hand which he then quickly dried by rubbing
it against his corduroy pants. He felt
the wet coolness of his sweat on the collar of his shirt draping his neck but
it did not seem to help matters. His
shirt, now sticking to his back clung on to him and he felt sick to his stomach. He could turn around and walk back home but
he had to go see her. It had been two days since she had left him what sounded
like an urgent message on his phone.
mid-morning and the callous Limuru sun had not even begun to bear her
rays. It had been a dry season for a
long time-longer than anyone remembered but that had been the trend. The pact, signed by the seasons, a long time
ago had been broken. Thus the rains kept their distance while sun came out to play.
“Hey muthuri uyu, are we going, some time to
day?” asked an impatient bus conductor. Juma looked up to see him and then
turned around to see this old man who was delaying the departure. There was no one. It was him and he quickly clambered up and
hopped on the bus.
old man a seat!” the conductor, a young man with huge muscles glistening with
beads of perspiration shouted again to no one in particular. In fact the bus was not even half full. He smiled at Juma as he walked by and then
turned back to the door, leaning his body so far out he looked like he was
flying as he scanned the bus stop for more passengers.
“I am not
an old man” Juma muttered, as he sat down behind the driver. But in that moment of self- doubt he examined
himself, looking at the palms of his hand and then the back, where veins and
capillaries crisscrossed with no discernible plan. He had big hands, ones that had seen hard
work and their share of tender moments-especially with Zainabu.
a carpenter. He did not make much money
but whatever he made he made with love and an eye for perfection. Like the time his friend, Mrs. Beke, brought
him an old dilapidated wooden chair she wanted repaired. He had asked her to let him make another one but
she had insisted on its sentimental value; it was the first chair she and her
husband, Beke had bought together from him when they first got married. Juma admired the young couple and when they
had their first child, he was the first to visit with them and they remained
close ever since.
why he did not understand why Mrs. Beke would want the chair repaired-something
that reminded her of her husband had left her and his two children for another
woman, three or four years ago.
the only one who can repair this.” She said without bitterness. “I want it the
way it was in the beginning so I can close….”
not seem to hear her as he gazed at the chair and then said, almost to
himself. “I remember this chair very
well.” His fingers traced the dried and
cracked contours of the chair, as if caressing it back to life.
later she came to pick it up. He had
meticulously chiseled, planed, vanished and polished it to a sheen that left
her breathless. They had talked for a
little bit and then she left.
not wait for long for the bus to start him on his journey and before too long
he was walking up a small dirt path towards Zainabu’s house.
top of the hill just before entering the compound, he stopped to catch his breath. He looked around the small farm. There was something different. Ah, yes, the lush green of healthy corn,
potatoes, and grass fields where two cows mooed in sated glee as they oozed
milk from their huge udders. He wiped
his itchy eyes with the back of his hand and continued to look around him.
distance he could see the Ngong forest.
To his right, the hills of Banana waved across the skyline. The air, a mixture of pine, gum and wattle
trees reminded him of his woodshop.
“Ahem! Are you just going to sit there old man?” It was Zainabu.
quickly got up to his feet and went to meet her. She wore a long red dress and a black shawl
draped over her shoulders. Her hair,
cropped up into an afro, made her face look smaller and her smile enigmatic.
are you? I came as quickly as I could,”
smiled and begun to walk back to the house.
inside she sat down on the sofa and beckoned him to sit next to him. He did not understand. She had never invited
him to her house-ever. She always came
to him. He had asked her why so many
times but he never got an answer.
he loved her. He also knew that she gave
him whatever and whenever she could of herself but not the commitment he would
have wanted. Over time, it was good
enough for him.
is it my love?” he asked, voice tender and shaky.
placed her hands into his and said, “If you want me now, I can be yours.”
at her to see if she was serious. Her
disarming smile cut through him and he felt light-headed. What was this world coming to? He started to smile but his parched lips did
not let him. He wanted to say how happy
he was but no words came. He wished he had brought something to give her,
something that would speak to her the way he wanted to but could not. He started to shake. He lifted his hands hoping words would follow
“Juma. Don’t you love me? I thought this is what you always wanted.”
screamed Yes! But his lips refused to move.
He held his head in his hands and let out a muffled sound.
started to cry, walked out and ran to the bedroom and locked the door behind
opened his eyes, he tried to call after her but he had no voice. And then he saw it-the chair her had just
repaired for Mrs. Beke.
“He left me.” She said. He had not heard her come back into the room.
“You and Beke?” he asked incredulously.
He stood up quietly and walked to the
door and let himself out, retraced his steps back down the hill, leaving the
greenery behind him.
Before long he was back at his shop, his hands sweaty and aching from his wood saw. He looked up and saw Beke walking hurriedly home before the looming rains fell.
not seen him in a while. It now made
sense. She had sent the chair to him to
close a chapter of her life and he was running back home to open a new one for
himself and family.
Nducu wa Ngugi has a B.A. in Black Studies
from Oberlin College, a M.Ed. and an Ed.S in Teacher Leadership from Mercer University.
His commentaries on social issues have appeared in the Guardian, The Daily
Nation (DN2 Kenya), and The Business Daily Africa, Pambazuka News, Wajibu,
PalaPala, Education News and other online journals. His short story, Justine,
appeared in the St. Petersburg Review, Issue 4/5 (2012.) The Pain, another short story, appeared in
translation in Karavan, a Swedish magazine.
His first novel, City Murders, is slated for publication by the East
African Educational Publishers (2014).
Nducu, a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society lives in Long Island,
New York ,with his wife and daughter.